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October 2015

What two things did God NOT create?

By | Christianity | One Comment

You hear a lot of hypothetical, philosophical questions about the nature of God and His power. I still have memories of the smug smile that invariably followed the challenging statement: “if God is all-powerful, can he create a rock so big that He can’t move it?” As if we can create a paradox in our own mind that somehow disproves something that exists outside out mind. Sometimes it does seem like people live their lives with the attitude that if they simply can’t accept a concept, it must be false.

But my inability to get my arms around a subject doesn’t invalidate it. Otherwise, anything more advanced than Calculus 101 would cease to exist. If it were left to my abilities to study and focus in college, anyway…

So why do we get so hung up on the idea that there is evil in the world, if a purely good God did in fact create “everything”? How many times have we heard “if God were real, He never would have allowed that”. Never mind that in many of those cases, what happened was a result of something a human being decided to do to someone else. “How could God allow us to bomb each other into oblivion.”

The fact is, there are a couple of things that God actually didn’t create, and I think they help us understand a lot about what it means to have a relationship with God.

God didn’t create darkness

Do an experiment if you can. Find a closet or small room with a door. Close it, and turn out the light. Now imagine that the light creeping through the space under the door isn’t there – that you’re in complete darkness. Did you “create” that darkness? Well… Only in the sense that you removed the light. But the truth is that darkness is the “default state”. Without the light that you installed, without the exterior lights in the house, without the natural light from outside, that closet would always be dark.

In Genesis 1, God’s first act was to create light. If darkness is defined by the absence of light, wouldn’t that mean that darkness predates creation? It was not created simply because darkness  was an eternal state until light was created. And the great thing about light is that once we have it, the darkness can never again truly be dark – not unless you visit Innerspace Caverns or some place like that so far under the ground that natural light simply can’t reach.

God gave light, so that darkness could never dominate us again. Not unless we physically intervene and shut out that light.

What else in the Bible has that same characteristic?

John 3:19-21 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

Constantly in the Bible, we see the concept of righteousness aligned with the concept of light. And with good reason: when God introduced light, he defined darkness forever. Who would ever have known that it was dark until light came and showed us that we were in darkness? Isn’t that how the righteousness of God works?

1 John 1:5-7 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

If we think of sin as darkness and righteousness as light, then try another experiment. Go back to that closet, make it as dark as you can, and then strike a match. Is there any part of the closet where it is both light and dark? Of course not, because they cannot exits together. Darkness is defined as the absence of light. By the same token, sin is defined by the absence of righteousness. The two cannot coexist – there is no unrighteousness in God – because righteousness is a characteristic of God. (2 Cor. 6:14)

God cannot be unrighteousness any more than I can be canine. I’m not a dog. It’s not in my nature to BE a dog. It is physically impossible for me to have the same nature as a dog – I can only imitate it in some superficial way. And as much as we talk about how “human” our pets act, they are not human, and they never will be.

So God didn’t create darkness; He created a means of escaping it. And God didn’t create evil; He showed us how we could escape evil and be righteous, and by doing so, we could live in the presence of the source of all light for eternity. (Col. 1:12-14)

So when Jesus talks about the concept of Hell as being cast into outer darkness (Matt. 25:30) away from the presence of God, we start to really understand what it means to be separated from God. It means being separated from light, separated from goodness.

But most importantly, it explains how God could “allow” someone to be condemned to a life of darkness and suffering. He doesn’t “allow” it. We simply wouldn’t have it any other way. And we spend our lives blocking out every source of God’s light, when all we have to do is open the door.

Is it my fault they can’t take a joke? It doesn’t matter…

By | Christianity | No Comments

Many of you probably watched the Democratic debates earlier this week with varying levels of approval or disapproval, and if you’re into politics, you probably posted something about it at some point, or read someone else’s post.

Maybe even Mike Huckabee’s.

So, the former Arkansas governor and ordained Baptist minister took to Twitter with what I’m sure he thought was a pretty funny jab about Bernie Sanders.

mike huckabee tweet

It’s the kind of thing that a lot of people probably say at some point – who doesn’t know that a lot of third-world residents sometimes eat dog? Who hasn’t made some off-the-cuff comment about it while eating at a Chinese restaurant with a less-than-stellar health rating? I suspect Gov. Huckabee probably never expected anyone to be offended. He just wanted a funny way to talk about Bernie Sanders’ tax-heavy approach to government.

He should have known better. And as much as many conservative Christians would like to defend it, it was a dumb thing to do.

Let’s put aside the idea that people are too sensitive today – you’ll get no argument from me on that. Put aside the fact that because he unnecessarily made the remark about North Korean chefs, no one is talking about his legitimate criticism of socialist taxation policy. Here you have a man who wants to be president of the United States (at least I think he still does), which means the president of the people who like him, the people who don’t like him and the people who don’t know anything about him, but might just be sensitive about being reminded of how their countrymen have unconventional eating habits.

That brings with it a responsibility to try harder, to be better, to not be Donald Trump. Talking to a wide range of people means trying to connect with as many of them as you can – it’s not about winning points with your inner circle for wit and not caring if the other people “don’t get it”. And Gov. Huckabee should have gotten that point, because he allegedly knows the Bible.

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:5-6 ESVST)

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29 ESVST)

In other words, Christians shouldn’t have the attitude that “I’ll say whatever I want, and if they can’t take a joke, it’s too bad for them.” We can’t always control what people think about us, and there’s no question that the world is going to find ways to hate us for trying to live godly lives and standing for godly principles. But that doesn’t mean we throw the door open and go out of our way to provoke it. We’re called to sound speech “that cannot be condemned… having nothing evil to say about us.” (Titus 2:8) And living in a society of people who are really sensitive (sometimes selectively so) doesn’t relieve us of the responsibility to try.

Paul talked about being “all things to all people” for the sake of the gospel. He wasn’t saying that he lived like sinners or engaged in immoral activity so people in the world wouldn’t think he was “too good”; he was saying that he didn’t want anything to distract someone who might be interested in understanding the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul hated the idea that he might offend a fellow Jew with his conduct to the point that the person would no longer be willing to listen to the word of God – and so he continued to honor Jewish tradition, to the point that he even directed his protege Timothy to be circumcised, so that the issue of a mixed-race uncircumcised Jew wouldn’t distract a Jew who might find it objectionable.

It would be hard to argue that Paul thought they were “right” to be sensitive. But he wasn’t going to jeopardize his work for something so unimportant. So, if the issue of eating meat was going to offend someone to the point that their faith might be damaged, Paul wasn’t going to let it be an issue:

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. (Romans 14:17-20 ESVST)

I don’t know if the governor is racist or not. I sincerely doubt that he hates North Koreans. But I do know that he sent out a text that he should have known would have offended people. Is the priority to build a consensus across political and social boundaries? Or is it to inject a negative image about a group you’re allegedly trying to win over to your side – even when there were any number of other ways to make the same point?

As Christians, our priority isn’t about exercising our right to say whatever we want. It’s glorifying God and showing His grace in our lives. Let’s not ruin it for a good punchline.

I know I don’t earn my salvation, but am I entitled to it?

By | Christianity, Salvation | No Comments

I’m convinced that one of the reasons we sometimes have such a hard time reconciling the concept of “faith” and “works” in our relationship to God is that we really don’t understand the concept of grace, and how it applies to that relationship. We find Christians playing “battle of the verses”, one going to Ephesians 2:8 and saying “we don’t do anything in order to be saved”, the other going to James 2:24 and saying “we are justified by our works!”

Why can’t it be both? I believe the answer is that it can, and it is.

There is a difference between earning something and being entitled to it – and I think that distinction can help us understand the relationship between the grace of God and the obedience of man. And please understand: when I say “entitled”, I don’t mean a sense of self-entitlement that we often see in life where someone says “I am entitled to certain benefits by virtue of my existence.” We’ve all met that guy. And a person who comes to God and says “God has to accept me for who I am and how I choose to live” is not going to be justified in the end. (James 4:6-7)

Earning salvation or fulfilling terms?

To understand what I mean, let’s take an example: if I buy a lottery ticket tomorrow (and no, I’m not sanctioning buying lottery tickets any more than Jesus was sanctioning the idea of a debtor’s prison – I’m just drawing an analogy), and it turns out to be the winning ticket, and I realize that I have won $20 million, at what point am I considered a millionaire? I’m going to run into a lot of trouble if I start trying to make million-dollar purchases at that very moment – because I have been given nothing at that time!

But what do I have? I have a promise, an agreement into which I and the lottery commission entered when I bought that ticket. If the numbers come up for me, the commission will then pay me the money.

Have I earned $20 million? No. Am I entitled to it? Yes.

So why am I not a millionaire yet? Because I haven’t fulfilled my part of the agreement. I need to present my ticket and fill out whatever paperwork is required. If I’m not willing to do that, I’m not getting the money. That’s because even though it was promised to me, it was promised under certain terms and conditions – which I probably never read, but which will nonetheless be enforced!

What does the Lord require?

Jesus spells out the terms of his offer in no uncertain terms to his disciples: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” God’s grace (Acts 15:11), my faith and willingness to confess it before men (Rom. 10:9) and my obedience (Romans 6:16-17) are required elements in this covenant.

So back to the question of “entitlement.” Does that mean I have earned anything? Or does it mean that God has promised something and I can be assured that I will receive it? Think about the concept of entitlement without the negative connotations we often associate with the word. The definition of “entitle” is as follows:

“to give (a person or thing) a title, right, or claim to something; furnish with grounds for laying claim”

Notice that an entitlement is not something that I earn; it is given to me. But once I have it, I can expect that it will be fulfilled. So when Paul says: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day” (2Ti 4:7-8), he’s not talking about something he’s earned. He’s referring to an assurance he has from God that because he lived his life by faith in submission to God’s will, God will reward him for that life of sacrifice.

How do we “walk worthy” of the kingdom?

We are told that we must live in a way that is worthy of the grace of God (II Thes. 1:5,Col. 1:9-10). That doesn’t mean we’ll be perfect, or that we can live in such a way that has earned salvation for ourselves. But it does mean that God has promised that if I’m willing to place my faith in Him and submit to the terms and conditions He has set forth, then I can expect that He will be faithful until the end (Heb. 10:23, II Tim. 2:10-11).

The great thing about the gospel message is that I don’t have to understand all the deep nuances of doctrinal issues. I don’t have to be able to explain why God calls us to be baptized into Christ (Acts 2:41, Rom. 6:3, I Cor. 12:13, Gal. 4:27) in order to have my sins washed away (Acts 22:16), or be able to completely define and distinguish concepts like faith, works and grace. I just need to believe the word of God and obey it. And trust that God means what He says. That’s not salvation by works – it’s salvation “by grace through faith.”

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